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Nigeria28 August 2003

Press freedom still curbed amid growing lawlessness

Reporters Without Borders expressed concern today about numerous attacks on press freedom in Nigeria and the growing climate of lawlessness journalists have to work in, especially beyond Lagos.

The Akwa Ibom state house of assembly has ordered the expulsion of Haruna Acheneje, correspondent of The Punch newspaper in the southern state. Lawson Heyford, of The Source magazine, was arrested by police in the southern city of Port Harcourt and arbitrarily held by police for several days. And a Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) crew was attacked by police in Abuja while filming a clash between police and military officers.

"We are appalled at this unacceptable expulsion order against a journalist whose only sin was writing an article," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard. "We demand its immediate cancellation and call on the federal government to strongly condemn it."

The press freedom organisation urged the authorities to ensure greater security for journalists working around the country and not to allow abuses and irregularities to go unpunished. "Investigations into physical attacks and arbitrary arrests must be thorough and those responsible for them must be identified and punished," it said.

Acheneje had reported in The Punch on 11 August that house of assembly members were complaining about the federal government because their allowances had not been paid. The members said this article was false and a bid to stir up trouble and summoned the journalist to explain. But Acheneje didn’t come and wrote them to contact the head office in Lagos. The assembly then ordered him on 15 August to leave the state within a week.

On 22 August, when he failed to do so, it voted a resolution to expel him. On the same day, three armed men thoroughly searched his office while he was absent. The next day, he received two suspect packages at his home which he handed to police for fear they were dangerous. Dele Giwa, editor of the magazine Newswatch, was killed in 1986 when he opened a parcel bomb at his home.

Heyford was arrested without explanation on 22 August and held at the office of the Force Criminal Investigation Department (FCID) in Lagos. He was freed four days later after interrogation about an article he wrote on tribal clashes that killed several people in the southern village of Ataba and in which he named several people as being responsible.

Mohammed Labbo (reporter) and Abdullahi Abdullahi (cameraman), of the NTA, were attacked by police on 14 August as they were covering clashes between police and military officers. Abdullahi was hit on the head with rifle butts and his camera was damaged. The police affairs ministry has opened an enquiry into the incident, but without any results yet.



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